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Creek repair - rock dams  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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I made some small rock dams in the lower part of the creek where brush dams are inappropriate. I plan to put several more low rock dams in. I'm trying to induce meandering away from the power pole and to get more sediment to stay in the channel so grass can grow.



rockdamFeb4.jpg
[Thumbnail for rockdamFeb4.jpg]
 
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Nice job. I have some areas on my land that I need to do that, but unfortunately, they are pretty low on the priority list. Good for you though.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you! This is something I've been meaning to do for years, and finally getting to it. Erosion control and creek repair are our big priorities this cool season.
 
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Looking good. If you have extra rocks at the site, put them in the creek bed downstream from your dam. Otherwise, as the water cascades over the dam, it will carve a depression below the dam.

In your climate, every minute that you can delay the water's departure, the more your soil will absorb and hold.
Good work.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for the reminder, John. Some areas are down to bedrock, but extra rocks might mean extra soil capture.
 
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This may not be applicable, Tyler, I had a different sized creek to play with a few years back, with high and low flow cycles. A storm had eroded the banks and taken about ten feet of ground. Before the flood it was a grassy slope down to the creek bed. The creek flowed clear, with tiny flow and pools. After the flood unless it was winter, the stream bed was dry gravel, with all the water flow underground, and there was a bare dirt cliff about 15 feet high. That's what it was when I bought it.

One of the things I noticed was that you can also direct the flow from upstream. You might want to look at your project and think about strategic placement upstream from the power pole to direct the current.

In heavy flow, the obstacle does create a sort of "vacuum" just down stream, and a hole can be scoured, then the obstacle falls into the hole created. The material from the hole can be induced to settle out by slowing the water.

When I began, I did not know a lot about it, but when the water was high, I would stand and watch where the currents flowed, where eddy lines developed, and memorize landmarks so I would be able to remember exact locations of those patterns of flow in the water. I only owned 75 feet of stream bank, but after the neighbors on both sides saw the results, they allowed me to move stones on their property. Over a period of 5 years, I was able to get enough sediment to settle out of the stream to restore half the bank.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That actually gives me something more to think about, Thekla. I'll need to add some more rocks just downstream of the rock dam upstream of the power pole, to make sure there won't be a hole scoured there. It's very encouraging that you were able to get such results in only 5 years!

Here's today's rock dam:

rockdam4.jpg
[Thumbnail for rockdam4.jpg]
 
Thekla McDaniels
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It was a wonderful project for me, studying and managing the few but powerful forces, and trying to "communicate" with them to get the water to deposit sediment where I wanted it, rather than creating turbulence that then eroded further.

Your project looks like it is coming right along!
 
Travis Johnson
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Good for you Thekla. One of the problems we noted on the local soil and water conservation district for remedial stream erosion control was; once we allocated funds for a particular area and it was repaired, the problem would turn up just upstream or downstream from where the problem occurred. It was a never ending battle. The real issue was, the soil engineers who drew up the remedial plans did not observe as you did so things were never fixed. We fund very few programs like that now because it really was a waste of money.

One of the worst catastrophes I ever saw was where a town installed 2 small culverts where one huge one should have been. The freshet would blow through the two culverts like a sandblaster gun and killed the trees all around by literally blasting them up by the roots. You had to see the devastation to appreciate it. Worse yet, the out flowing ends of the culvert were 4 feet off the ground so trout could not work their way up stream. We did cure it with a arch culvert with natural bottom, but that simple mistake by a town cost $250,000!

All in all one of the most frustrating things for me as a farmer is dealing with the powers that be with a degree. My Grandfather used to walk hand in hand across our farm and have me taste different grasses...yes taste them. From whether they were acidic or sweet you could tell what the soil needed for amenities. Today I am required to soil test my fields every three years and get the same results merely from the power of observation.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Speaking of catastrophes, how about the army corps of engineers continuing folly where the Mississippi longs to run down the Atchafalaya to the sea?

I'm sure those people with degrees and power are part of the group Paul calls the department of "make you sad". "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" says it all. It is just getting people to recognized that when we put ourselves up against nature in a domination effort, it will always be "a little knowledge". If humanity has an underlying problem, it's that we cannot imagine that the functioning of the universe will always be beyond our complete comprehension. It just does not feel like that could be possible. I think they call that "hubris and ego", but they hardly begin to cover it!

I love it that Permaculture teaches to look at nature, pattern after it, work with it.

What region are you in, Travis?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I still see people channelizing natural watercourses with concrete in my region. There's a new housing development going in on this side of the city and sure enough, they are paving the seasonal creek by the entrance. I'm sure they had an engineer draw up the plans.

And people wonder why it floods so horribly around here, worse all the time.

http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-texas-storm-prompts-evacuations-in-area-hit-by-spring-floods-2015-10
 
Thekla McDaniels
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yeah, we could spend a lot of time cataloging all the crazy stupid things getting done in the face of evidence to the contrary.

But Tyler, it appears from the photos that you have some room to work in, or am I just wishful thinking on your behalf?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have a lot of room to work in - there are two seasonal creeks on our place and the longest is over 1000 feet long. So plenty of room to put in dozens of water-slowing structures. This lower section is something like 200 feet, so I can put in many rock dams. It's very exciting to think about slowing the water down and getting it to stick around! If we're very successful we might be able to save both our driveway and the county road next time it floods. In past floods the water peeled the pavement right off the road! I think I'm also getting neighbors upstream interested in putting some rock dams in their part of the creek.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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would it be possible to add some channels that carry water around the contour, ala key line or swales? so that all the water that falls on yourproperty does ont drain into the creek, but soaks in?

Is the street that the pavement got peeled off of up slope from you? Yikes that's a lot of water to get dumped on you. I hope your house is situated so that it does not get flooded.
 
Travis Johnson
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I live in Maine and am a tenth generational sheep farmer, but don't let the last part fool you; I learn from "dumb" sheep every day! I also weld when I have to.

I think about the worst case I have seen is when they came to put a manure pad on my farm. Now keep in mind I live on a 6% grade and the field is 12 acres in size. The only part that was remote to flat was next to my shop so the Agronomist say, "You're going to put it right there on that flat spot I'd imagine". Now the flat spot was only 20 feet wide and 40 feet long so just about anyone would know it was probably a LEACH FIELD. Not this guy, but figuring what is it going to hurt to put a concrete pad over a leach field I said yes. So then to my horror they get a Soil Engineer to test the soil and the guy said, "you should have a gravel pit here. Its all gravel." It was all I could do not to laugh. This guy is a Soil Engineer with at least a 4 year degree and he does not know the difference between rock that is smooth and naturally tumbled by a glacier and rock broken by a jaw crusher? Oh my we are doomed! Thank goodness he did not hit one of my leach field PVC pipes or he would have thought he hit a mastodon bone!

I live high on top of a hill so streams start here and only two get to the point of having any sort of measurable channel. Unfortunately my last logging contractor somehow felt it was prudent to drive up and down one, turning around in it even with his skidder just up stream from where I want to put in a decent crossing. Obviously he had to be booted off as I cannot tolerate that; either legally, morally or if I wish to proceed with our Tree Farm permitting. Freeze thaw cycling will eventually mitigate that, but I really want to put in a decent crossing across this stream, but a lack of time is an issue. Besides having a wife, 4 daughters (2, 8,9, and 10), a sheep farm; I also work full time as a welder at a shipyard. Sadly I got time off now, but it is only because I am recovering from a rebuilt knee!

So when I say I am impressed with someones ambition to get something like this accomplished...a rock dam, I mean every word. To dedicate the time and ambition says a lot about a person's character and integrity. I really strive to mean "Good for You" in a very motivating and powerful way, and not be mere flattery because I have a lot of resources, yet fail to do a lot of what I know I should do. For those doing it; Good for you!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:would it be possible to add some channels that carry water around the contour, ala key line or swales? so that all the water that falls on yourproperty does ont drain into the creek, but soaks in?

Is the street that the pavement got peeled off of up slope from you? Yikes that's a lot of water to get dumped on you. I hope your house is situated so that it does not get flooded.



We have a great opportunity for an enormous long swale, but, no money to have it constructed...The road gets peeled downstream of us, and fortunately, our house is quite a bit above the flooding area. It's a scary amount of water.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you very much Travis! I'm getting things done by taking tiny little bites every day. I only allow myself to tote two wheelbarrow-loads of rocks each day so I don't overdo it, as I'm prone to overwork and get exhausted and ill.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here is the series of dams finished for now. A year from now I hope to need to add more rocks on top of the soil which should build up in the channel.

finishedrockdams.jpg
[Thumbnail for finishedrockdams.jpg]
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Looks great. I want to see it in a year!
 
Travis Johnson
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Oh don't let a lack of funding stop you from doing something, a lot of times I have postponed a good project because of what I call "Paralysis by Analysis", in other words, overthinking something. Yes that must be tempered with observing, being patient and doing things properly and not just jumping in without a plan, but I wonder if a long swale could be built by being creative. It is hard to tell from a picture, and only "boots on the ground" would tell, but maybe you have a friend with a plow and tractor, a lot of swales are built in such a way. Swales and ditches do not always have to be deep to work, just diversionary in nature. Thankfully gravity is pretty predictable! Where I live the barter system is alive and well too and I have managed to get a lot done by borrowing, bartering and helping in this and that. And never forget that renting equipment is an option.

My general mantra on my farm is to never hire out what I even think is possible myself.

A case in point is my wide pine flooring. My great room is 24 ft by 40 feet and I wanted it planked with White Pine. I had the trees, a sawmill, but what about putting a shiplapped edge on it. A neighbor has a 4 sided planer that could shiplap, but then I thought of my ancestors before me. They shiplapped boards without the effort of putting all those boards on a trailer, hauling it 5 miles down the road, having someone else form the shiplapped edges and the recarting them back; no they would have done it themselves. In the end, and in a blizzard I might add, I used a router with a rabbiting bit and formed the shiplaps myself.

I am not in the least trying to say what you done is not enough, just encouraging you more! You have done so much already with a wheelbarrow and your hands, but then again thousands of miles of railroad line were built that way as well!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Travis! None of our neighbors have plows, unfortunately. Tractors yes (they rarely use them), plows no. The only plowing around here is done by guys who hire themselves out to plow the big fields of oats and sorghum. And I think they only use disk plows/harrows. We've hired an earthmoving guy to dig some infiltration basins, but presently we don't have the funds to hire any more work from him. The ideal thing would be to have a swale dug from the basin which slows water from the upper drainage, and bring the swale all the way across the middle of the property, about 900 feet. That would enable the spread of half the flood water, instead of letting it all go down and wipe out our driveway. One of our neighbors has some kind of harrow thing that might work to make a very mini swale, but I can't imagine it would work to move much water. Swales might not need to be big to move a little water, but I think they need to be big to move a large amount of water.
 
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I have put in approximately 600 feet of medium large swales with a subcompact tractor with a 4 foot bucket loader and a $200 subsoiler to break up the ground. It can be done, and it is faster than by hand. And then key line plow the rest to aide in infiltration.
 
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A few decades ago I built a pond using a wheelbarrow and shovel. The thing that was surprising to me, was how fast it went in with only 15 minutes of work per day, consistently done all summer long.

 
Tyler Ludens
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That's persistence, Joseph! Not sure I'm up to digging 900 feet of swale by hand... Maybe if I were "a few decades" younger...
 
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If you have access to a neighbor's tractor, I would start looking into buying a used 2 bottom plow. I found one on craigslist for $250, had to drive a couple hours to go pick it up, but its been worth it. I've put in a couple hundred feet of swale so far and a couple hundred left to go. I plan on selling it after I'm done, should be able to get my money back...just a thought.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That's way out of our budget right now, but thank you for the suggestion!

 
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There's been rain here fairly recently. Was there enough at your place to see your dams in action?
 
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I have a similar situation of erosion problems.
The bottom of a "holler" gets the drainage from two hillsides and the ridge opposite the perpendicular road at the top end. Year-round its pretty moisty, mucky.
My hillsides are nicely broken up need some natural undergrowth, and composed of well-drained soil, but the channel at the bottom of the holler is prone to erosion.
One spot is obvious, as a small hardwood sits right in the middle of the low drainage. Upstream, the soil is flat for a moment, and water just sinks in.
Downstream, the water escapes in line, and has dug out a tiny cave under the tree!

Clearly I'd like to stop losing all that topsoil, but down the road dig a pond to hold onto some of that continual dribbling.
There is no local rock without purchase.
I think your stone-lined channel, with little pour-over dams might be the way I approach this.

Do you have suggestions as to how to shore up the sides? certain trees or plants that will hold off the occasional heavy water flow?
I can imagine the water just backing up and loosing more sidewall dirt - finding a different path.
Also, how to discourage mosquitos while slowing and pooling the water?

thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
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The idea is to make the dams a little lower where you want the main force of the water to be; to go straight, dip down in the middle of the dam; to meander, lower one end and reinforce the high end where it touches the wall with extra rocks. In your situation where you don't have lots of rocks of your own, you might want to try brush dams. http://www.permies.com/t/51421/earthworks/Creek-repair-brush-dams
 
Tyler Ludens
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Update on the rock dams in the creek. The channel is completely grown across with grass and other plants in some areas, thanks to a longish period without bad flooding. In other places, grass is sprouting between the piled rocks.

grassedchannel.jpg
[Thumbnail for grassedchannel.jpg]
holdingwater.jpg
[Thumbnail for holdingwater.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Some photos from this morning showing a good amount of water in the creek, with lots of silt. Very little of this water is from our land, most of it is from across the road.

rockdamsapril.jpg
[Thumbnail for rockdamsapril.jpg]
neighborwater.jpg
[Thumbnail for neighborwater.jpg]
 
Casie Becker
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Are we to understand from this that you successfully captured a large quantity of both water and soil for your land?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I don't know if I've captured the soil - I won't know until the water stops flowing and I can see if the silt dropped out. We're certainly slowing the water, though I think I could make the dams a little higher, when I have the energy to tote more rocks.

 
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I think it will be safer to make more dams the same size between existing ones, rather than make them higher, at least until new soil and sturdy vegetation are fully established in the channel.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you for that advice. What would be the drawback to higher dams? The water was flowing over these quite a bit, I'm wondering if the silt would drop out faster if the water was held back more.

 
Glenn Herbert
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At the kind of flow in your pictures, no drawback at all. But in a bigger flood that flows over the top of the dam significantly, the farther the water falls down in one swoop, the faster it will go and the more force it will have to scour the base of the dam. That is why someone earlier advised putting stones at the downstream side of the dams, to protect against scour. I think you'll get about the same soil-holding effect with more small dams as with fewer big ones.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Glenn Herbert wrote:I think it will be safer to make more dams the same size between existing ones, rather than make them higher



I concur. My most successful rock dams have been a single layer deep, maybe two.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm probably just being impatient. I added another (low) dam and bolstered the splash aprons and sides of a couple others. I think I might make the final dam a little higher, because I want there to be scouring below it in the pool where the water enters the culverts, which I want to keep clear of debris.


 
Tyler Ludens
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We had flooding rains last night and a lot of water in the creek - too much for our driveway culverts to handle, so part of our driveway washed out, but less than in the past. I think some of our water-slowing structures are working - we just need a lot more of them.

In the first picture you can see debris washed up along the driveway; the next two pics show the washed out driveway:


rockdamsmay182016.jpg
[Thumbnail for rockdamsmay182016.jpg]
washout2may2016.jpg
[Thumbnail for washout2may2016.jpg]
washoutmay2016.jpg
[Thumbnail for washoutmay2016.jpg]
 
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